Special-operations contract up for grabs as ATARS is to be renewed

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A prestigious contract to operate the US Air Force's special-operations aircrew training and rehearsal system (ATARS) is coming up for re-competition. Incumbent Lockheed Martin is expected to face stiff competition for the $100 million-a-year business, with cost likely to be a major factor.

Boeing, CAE and L-3 Link have all expressed interest in the ATARS re-competition, which is expected to get under way late next year. They have to decide whether to act as prime contractors or team to bid, as the shape of the competition is not clear. One possibility is that US Air Force and US Army special-operations training could be combined.

Under ATARS, Lockheed Martin provides academic and simulator training at three US locations. Training on 20 devices covers 50 unique crew positions on 12 different aircraft, and more than 4,000 students were trained last year, says Patrick St Romain, ATARS deputy programme manager.

Lockheed Martin is currently upgrading all devices with FlightSafety's Vital 9 visual system for commonality. Delivery of six FlightSafety-built simulators for the Bell Boeing CV-22 tiltrotor has begun and a weapon system trainer for the HC-130P is planned for acquisition next year.

The USAF plans to build a network operations centre, equipped with its own simulators, to allow its special-forces crews to participate in virtual exercises without interrupting training. A location has yet to be selected, says St Romain.

Award of the new ATARS contract is expected in mid-2006. CAE is seen as a strong contender because of its work with the US Army special operations aviation regiment, including new simulators and visual systems. Somewhat chastened by its failure to win the US Army's Flight School XXI competition last year, CAE has not decided whether to bid for ATARS as prime or join a team.